BETWEEN ADAPTATION AND NOSTALGIA:
THE BULGARIAN TURKS IN TURKEY
FOREWORD - Antonina Zhelyazkova
THE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ADAPTATION OF BULGARIAN IMMIGRANTS IN TURKEY- Antonina Zhelyazkova
MOTIVATION OF THE BULGARIAN TURKS TO MIGRATION - Tsvetana Gheorghieva
BULGARIAN TURKISH IMMIGRANTS OF 1989 IN THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY - Donka Dimitrova
UNDERSTATED, OVEREXPOSED - Peter Krasztev
RELATION TO BULGARIA, THE BULGARIAN PEOPLE, AND THINGS BULGARIAN - Jale Hodja and Emil Milanov
Turks in Bulgaria - Immigrants in Turkey
Arnavutkoy - Kucuk Cekmece
I estimated that the trip from Arnavutkoy, the favourite place to stay as well as place of amusement of foreigners living in Istanbul, to Kucuk cekmece, where a refugee camp from which the inhabitants refused to budge had been bulldozed a few days ago, was going to take two to three hours. Close to the station, directly under the Pan-Mediterranean-style facades sluggish anglers hung on their lines and kept pulling out their tiny, wriggling prey from the water full of garbage and jelly-fish. / fishermen were languidly pulling out their prey, - two or three /pieces/ at a time - out of the net sunk in the dirty sea water/ I got on the roundabout line, since I failed to cram into the direct bus. We left Ortak?y - once inhabited by Jews, but now having an entirely Greek atmosphere - with its baroque-like mosque and hidden synagogue, the giant hotels of Be_ikta_, the eclectic Dolmaba?he Palace, built in the last century by the last Sultans for themselves and their populous harems (it was embarrassing, no doubt, for a "European" ruler to live in the Topkapi, which was about as comfortable as a tent in a Turkish medieval military camp). Then we turned up the hill by the In?n? Stadion and crossed the Soho-like, bustling streets of the _i_li district. Finally we stopped on Taksim Square - I hopped on a single-track tram (probably the same make and the same year as those in Lisbon) running down Istiklal Boulevard, remarkable for its Armenian Gregorian and Italian Catholic church flanking either side, and interspersed with international brand name shops and caf?s which became brothels by night. From the end of the street I walked down to Galata Bridge. "Welcome to Asia", I muttered to myself at the next block, at the sight of loitering Arnauts, grey-faced and moustached, with their women hidden under veils - their ancestors had moved into the abandoned houses of Greek merchants once living there. On the other side of the bridge, Kurds were pulling at my sleeve to buy tobacco from them, fresh from "Kurdistan", on my right the Egyptian Bazaar; peeling myself away, I took the fast tram up to the monuments of imperial glory, away from this frantic business centre where tourists were milked, and then, leaving Aksaray, dashed through Vatan Avenue which was a miniature Gorky Street (now Tverskaya - editor’s note), or so the Russian sign-boards and the ethnic proportions seemed to indicate. I hitched a microbus from the immense, muddy and filthy parking-lot of the Topkapi, and - off we go again, through the housing estates and the satellite towns, passing Atat?rk Airport, passing Avcilar, famous for its casinos, and all the while I keep myself amused imagining that it is not a real tour of a real city, but rather a road movie, edited in counterpoint to make some deliberately didactic point about our Europe sweeping down on Asia, about the frantic fight going on here, between thousands of traditions, between the past and the present, between the secular/profane and the religious/sacred - though in fact this is not at all what the history of the place is about, the projected celluloid tape manipulates the spectator by creating the illusion of temporality: any continuity is mere appearance.
There are about three hundred thousand dramatis personae in the following story: the exact number of the Turks who emigrated from Bulgaria after 1989 will remain a matter for debate until the parties involved tire of the argument - the question is unanswerable and finally not that important. The collective misfortune of these migrants is to have lived their lives in two states, as a minority group in one, as an immigrant group in the other, but treated in both as human raw material for experiments in the realisation of the currently advocated idea of how to save society. As a minority group in Bulgaria, not only were they reduced to a state of helpless dependence - which was not uncommon in our part of the world, - but they were specifically chosen for sacrifice to an increasingly pathological obsession with the nation-state by those in power. And when, in 1989, hundreds of thousands of them emigrated to Turkey en masse, with tourist passports in their pockets, the tables were turned: the high-and-mighty rulers of the host country, too, reckoned that the life and fate of those who had found a new home in their country belonged to them, and that through them they could influence political developments not only at home, but in Bulgaria as well.
Over seven years have passed since the "big trip" - a length of time which, according to the long-term emigres, is enough for the newcomers to judge whether one might successfully adapt to the new society or would rather be permanently resigned to life on the fringes. A series of events - their collective experience - has become history ever since, a discourse about the past, accepted with a taciturn consensus by the community, has been established, and their former identity as a minority group has also been re-shaped and certainly quite strongly influenced by those "discourse-creating factories" which placed the immigrants under their own guardianship immediately after their arrival.
Between October and December 1996 I visited cities in Turkey where these immigrants had settled down in droves. I talked as informally - and impartially, I hope - as possible without a dictaphone or obvious note-taking to several hundred people. I tried to grasp the moment when personal grievances were sublimated into a story, when the experience of an individual became the history of a community and the sense of banishment and strangeness was replaced by the comfort of a permanent home and settled way of life. In many cases this was not at all difficult - the struggle for survival and even progress, if successful, had invested former humiliations in Bulgaria with a meaning; the immigrants who had not succeeded since 1989 could still comfort themselves obliquely that those stuck at home were not doing any better. Yet, the trauma will remain a trauma forever, and there is no definitive cure, only a continual treatment -demanding a continual reconstruction of memories.
... what matters is the direct personal experience that somebody has, rather than their formal position.
(Thompson, 1988,p. 188).
Apart from Petar Stoyanov, the president currently in office, and a few inveterate human rights activists I never met a Bulgarian who would admit out loud to being deeply ashamed of what had happened in the country between 1984 and 1989, or who regarded the genocide against the Turkish and the Pomak minorities as anything other than a minor stylistic error. The evacuation of Turks from Bulgaria had started immediately after 1878, the end of the Russian-Turkish war, and by the end of World War II, approximately five hundred and fifty-five thousand Turks had left Bulgaria. But this is a mere trifle compared to what began after the Communist take-over, when the Turkish minority, like all the others, was placed under the guardianship of the state. Following the first period of the Communist regime (1948-1951), one hundred and fifty thousand people fled to Turkey in 1951 from nationalisation and the collectivisation of the land. The next period, up to 1960, was marked by a "tolerant disintegration": this was a time when Turkish-language culture in Bulgaria flourished and when it was practically preferable for a Turk to be Turkish rather than attempting to integrate into the majority’s society. Then came the miserable 1960s, the era of "intolerant integration": ethnic schools and theatres were closed down, Turkish newspapers were banned, listening to Turkish folk music in public places was prohibited. After the signing of the Bulgarian-Turkish agreement in 1968, two hundred thousand Turks emigrated, and this - unlike the 1951 wave - could in no way be perceived as economic emigration.
According to a friend of mine, a former Bulgarian diplomat in Ankara, the "valves" (i.e. the borders) used to be opened from time to time in order to keep the number of "rapidly breeding" Turks constant. But from 1973 on, the concept of a "unified Bulgarian nation" gained overwhelming currency in the Bulgarian press, indicating the beginning of an era of "aggressive homogenisation": the Turks were increasingly absented from ethnic and geographical descriptions of the country; the names of Pomaks were forcefully Bulgarianised, mosques were closed down and it was prohibited to wear shalwars, to celebrate Muslim festivities, to organise traditional weddings and funerals, to keep in touch with the motherland; and to use the Turkish language became punishable. An increasing number of “engaged” authors came to produce historical novels about the Turkish domination, making the point that nobody but Bulgarians have set foot on the holy Bulgarian soil for thousands of years until the Turks invaded to forcefully convert the Christian Bulgarians to Islam or put them to the sword. In 1984, the "rebirth program" sought to eliminate "history's mistake" by changing the names of "Bulgarians with a Turkish name”. And eventually in 1985, a sigh of relief was heard: "There are no Turks in Bulgaria".
‘You do not exist’, O'Brien answered.(George Orwell, 1983)Strange as it may seem, even highly educated immigrants were incapable of giving a sensible answer when asked why they thought they had been forced to change their names. They mentioned rumours, they mentioned Zhivkov, Communist party politics, the unified nation-state idea that the Bulgarians suddenly wanted to realise, they tried to explain the whole thing away, they searched for reasons, but they obviously had no ready answer. Even well-informed Bulgarians, some of whom were exceptionally sensitive to the issue, could give no reasonable explanation to the renaming - such as my diplomat friend, who tried to distract me by yarning about secret agents. In his opinion, the Turks were simply the victims of “the survival strategy” of an institution: In the early eighties, the idea that ethnic Turks were conspiring for autonomy was invented by big shots in the Bulgarian secret service in order to patch up, by “uncovering the plot”, the impaired reputation of their “firm” with leader Zhivkov (the murder of Georgi Markov, the writer, in London; the bungled attempt to murder the Pope, etc.). Actually, the story has a weak point - even a weaker secret service could not be so incompetent as not to supply at least one stooge to confess to a plot for Turkish autonomy. On the other hand, the story illustrates the mentality of those close to power: if it takes the defamation of a few hundred thousand people to humor the boss, so be it.
Yet, defamation itself was not the aim, since the top authorities really came to believe that, with the name-changes, the Turks had in fact been eradicated. Following these event, "Ex-Turks" were already drafted into regular army units just like any Bulgarian, something unimaginable before: according to official phantasmagorias the Turks were internal enemy, and could therefore (with the natural exceptions of party members and the descendants of partisans) be enlisted to serve only in the labour corps. An example is Abraham from Istanbul, in his thirties - he was wondering how come he was kicked out of Bulgaria with an easy mind - he who as an electrician had got a training which involved strictly confidential information available to only three other people in the country. And then, in 1989, he was suddenly given a passport and sent away to Turkey.
Some writers go as far as to say that the USSR uses Bulgaria to test a new policy before applying it to her own people. According to the late Benningsen, the forced change of names imposed on the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria might be the experimental prelude to a similar policy contemplated by the USSR for the Muslims living there.(Karpat, 1990, p. 10).It is small wonder that Western commentators were at a loss to interpret these events and settled on the usual Eastern-bloc-conspiracy theory. However, it is curious that Karpat, who is biased and cavalier with facts, but pleasingly consistent nevertheless, refers to his Western counterpart without making malicious comments, while his duty as a historian ought to have been to differentiate between empire and nation-state, not to mention the fact that this statement actually undermines the very thesis of "continuity" that he presents. According to my unofficial sources, the material sent by the Bulgarians to the USSR for consultation did not even reach the top Soviet leaders. At the time they were absorbed by the need to replace the next Party Secretary and harassed by the alcohol ban, and it was some mid-level apparatchik who sent the Bulgarians a message to do whatever they wished.
There was perhaps only one person I talked to, Kasim - a guy from Istanbul with an especially good education and variagated career - who considered it obvious that the "rebirth program" had started much before the early eighties: he was the only one to answer, without thinking twice, that it had happened because "there was national-socialism in Bulgaria - literally". Besides him, Mehmet, the tea-shop owner in Istanbul said that he had had misgivings as early as the mid-seventies, when he, the regional party secretary`s chauffeur, was sitting at a big meeting and was suddenly called up to read a speech about the atrocities committed by the Turks in Bulgaria. He emigrated as soon as he had the chance, in 1978.
The general loss of memory is not to be explained solely psychologically; it is not simply childhood amnesia. Rather it is social amnesia - memory driven out of mind by the social and economic dynamic of this society.(Jacoby, 1975, p.4).The period immediately prior to the most severe trauma - the renaming - is obscured in the pink haze of "happy, peaceful times" in the mind of practically each emigrant. In their words, it was true that they were earning little money with little work, but they made a living, their work was appreciated, they were not made to feel like strangers, moreover, they had Bulgarian friends, they visited one another, went to parties, enjoyed themselves, - life was following its regular course. And then out of the blue, in 1984 the landscape changed drastically: friends were no longer friendly; nobody would look them in the eye and show sympathy; people preferred not to address them even, because using either their former Muslim or their current Slavic names involved taking a stance. All in spite of the fact that they were, so they claim, thoroughly Bulgarianised by now, their children barely spoke Turkish, they had neglected their religion and lived like "everybody else". When I asked them if they realised that they had been gradually deprived of their human and minority-status rights in the previous decades, they returned the question without a moment’s hesitation and asked me how on earth they could have known that they had human and minority rights, since under Communism nobody spoke to them about such things. In Istanbul's Pendik district a woman, a teacher called Ayten, defended her vision about congenial Bulgarian multiculturalism so vehemently that she drew the "Turkish yoke" into the picture, which got a laugh from her audience.
Is that what they say? Well, they are wrong. Economically, perhaps, everything was fine, but otherwise... This is mere nostalgia: old times, stuff like that, everybody wants to be young again, this is the only explanation. Besides, they are incapable of thinking things through...(Zeynep, Ankara, November 1996)Yet gradually, different memories also emerged about what it was like leaving the rural world, where the relationship between the two ethnic groups had been functioning according to centuries-old norms, and usually without particular conflict.
Aseniye, who presently lives in Bursa, begins by talking about her thorough assimilation, but then suddenly remembers that when her family moved to a new home in another village, several people reported them to the police because they spoke Turkish in the family. It was only after she had rescued the son of a hostile neighbour, an army-officer, from a hit-and-run accident that they were accepted and no more looked down upon. Z?leiha in Istanbul is also struck by a sudden memory: when her son won an international asphalt-drawing competition, an offended Bulgarian mother had shrieked that a Turkish kid cannot be better than hers, returned to the square that night to cross out the "Bulgaria" under the kid's name and write "Turkey" instead. Ali, an Istanbul-based engineer, remembers a guy in his university years who refused to share digs with a Turk, having heard so many bad things about them, although he said he had never met a living Turk before. They eventually made friends, the guy invited him to his parents' village, where they enjoyed an evening's merriment, but later on his friend confessed that he had not slept a wink at night out of fear that one of his nervy family members might jump their guest.
Neyran, a businesswoman from Ankara in her mid-forties positively refused to let me interview her at first. It turned out that she had never spoken about the past before, and admitted frankly that she did not wish to revive painful memories. She was perfectly assimilated in Bulgaria, had no contact with Turks and enjoyed a privileged position in a large company in Shoumen. When she emigrated, she had to start from scratch, but now she manages her own prosperous company. She was very uneasy for the first ten minutes of our conversation as she spoke about the full life she had led up until 1984 in her native place, when she suddenly found herself “in a vacuum”, “everything was suddenly upside down”. Her friends were no more friends, her presence at the office was unwelcome, and so on. I could see her trembling, her arms covered with goose-flesh - as she spoke the realisation came to her that the opposite of what she had been saying to herself all these years was true. Eventually she said: "We lived together, but we were essentially different - the antipathy they were brought up to feel for us could not be eradicated."
Almost everyone had a true horror story about the renaming period. I met people who refused to resign themselves to being renamed, would not accept their new documents and chose imprisonment instead, or transportation to the punishment camp on Belene Island. These were the resistance fighters and there were about a thousand of them. They were beaten up by the police, but - as M?cettin, the waiter in Avcilar told me - had the good fortune of the freezing spring weather, which meant their open wounds did not fester in the unheated but stuffy tents they were given for accommodation; they were re-settled in ethnically pure Bulgarian villages, but - as Sabri in Ankara pointed out - would never have learnt otherwise that there were Bulgarians without racial prejudices; they were imprisoned for years, but - as Zeynep told me - would never otherwise have met that woman who was in for eighteen years for smacking a policeman on the head when her three-year-old son had been hit by a tank in the street, and who had to remain silent at visiting hours when her husband came, because she spoke no Bulgarian and was not allowed to speak a "foreign language".
The renaming - though it was seemingly well-organised and methodicallly carried out - was probably administered by the local forces without central reinforcement, unless they asked for it specially in case of need. All those who had "foreign" names were given a list with names to choose from. Seliha's entire family chose Russian-sounding names and when she was asked why, she said: so that when the Russians come in a few years I would not have to choose a new name again. The neighbourhood was first surrounded by armed security guards and then the lists were handed around, from apartment to apartment. Some people went into hiding but emerged sooner or later, because their old names disallowed them even from working, drawing money from the bank or driving a car.
In certain areas, the local "elite" were gathered in advance - shepherds and pharmacists alike - and removed to a camp where they were made "politically conscious", forced to dig several kilometres long trenches and live it rough, shown the more shadowy side of life, then given their new documents and, in return for the usual signature - under no circumstances to inform anybody, etc. etc. - allowed to go home “safe and sound”. Only then their families learnt for the first time that they were still alive. Indeed, some of the university graduates could only get manual work afterwards, but at least they were finally Bulgarians and that was the cost they had to pay for the protest they were able to make in their last days as Turks. For example, Recep, a guy I met in Bursa, had chosen an unusual form of passive resistance: when in 1985 it became obligatory for ticket-inspectors on the train to wear name tags (with the new names on, of course), he secretly began to believe in Allah. Perhaps somewhere in the depth of his soul he had always wanted to be different.
One incurable fixation of the Bulgarian authorities was the "foreign contact" about which I heard only one story: immediately after the renaming some teenagers managed to get into the British embassy from where they were told to buzz off immediately and advised to "do the work" outside, with the embassy's special attention. As their ill luck would have it, the teenagers took the advice seriously and started producing and distributing leaflets, but the police caught them and locked them up immediately. Not even a sorry was uttered by the British side.
THE ROAD TO HELL
A narrow gate was set up in the waiting-hall of the station. Policemen stood on either side while masses of emigrants queued in front of it with those who came to see them off, on the other side only those whose passports had been checked. Everyone was allowed as much luggage as they could carry on the way through - there was no return. I pushed the children - one of them was twelve years old, the other sixteen - they passed, then it was my turn, I tried crosswise and lengthwise but did not manage, so I put down one of the suitcases and eventually got through. It was only afterwards that I noticed that I had left the water-can on the other side of the gate. I was not allowed togo back for it or to ask somebody to give it to me. Then we travelled five days in the sweltering heat to the Turkish border.(Z?leiha, Istanbul, December 1996)During the great exodus in 1989 the Bulgarian authorities reinvented hell and made it effective. I did not meet a single emigrant who had received a decent treatment on the Bulgarian side of the border. Yet, the majority of them did not leave in euphoria or of their own accord. Many of them were handed over their passports in their homes, others were well-wishingly sacked from their jobs or steadily harassed by keen party members until they themselves asked for their passports, and there were also those who were frequently visited by bored functionaries from the Ministry of the Interior until they were brought into line and reconsidered. Most of those I interviewed said they had left because others had been leaving, only a few answered kind of hypocritically that they had wanted to live in Turkey in all their born days. For they knew about life on the other side of the border hardly anything but what official Bulgarian propaganda was spreading about it - filth, famine, cannibalism, lice, leprosy, crime, oppression (I myself have childhood memories about these stereotypes), and what they had learnt from their grandparents - that Turkey had to be loved no matter what it was like.
As their remembrances showed, the road to hell had been paved with malice. The would-be emigrants were well-aware that, equipped with a tourist passport, they were only allowed fifty dollars per head plus their personal belongings, which were restricted to whatever they could carry along. Bilal, for example, told me that the Zhiguli he had paid six years earlier had just come through, but on showing his ID the car was withdrawn again immediately. There are several versions about how Turks with purely Bulgarian names could be nevertheless recognised even five years later: some suspect there was a hidden mark in the documents, others opt for the outstanding intuition of the Bulgarians, but there are some who explain the "shop discrimination" with the Turks' bizarre-sounding new names. A family intending to emigrate had simply been barred from shopping in the supermarket of the neighbouring town; other friends of mine in Istanbul described as an anecdote the devious methods they had concocted to avoid having blankets confiscated from them at the exit of the supermarket where they had just bought them. Ne?mi from Yalova, a former electrician in a Varna hospital, complains that when he started for the border, his colleagues reported him to the police for not having returned his equipment. The policemen pulled him out of the long line of cars and took him back to Varna where he arranged his affairs and was back at the border three days later. The man behind him was still keeping his place in the line for him - they were advancing surprisingly slowly...
There was no inferno awaiting them on the far side of the border, despite the assertions continuously discharged by the Bulgarian mass media to the contrary. The emigrants were welcome by helpful border police, and the Red Crescent had a kitchen and accommodation set up. Intelligence officers asked everyone individually, though cursorily on account of the large number of people flowing in, whether they had temporary accommodation with relatives, and those who did not were transported in daily convoys to various cities where the exiles were put up in empty schools and barracks. Rumour has it that the fate of each emigrant family was more or less decided on the spot: active resistance fighters and ex-prisoners were given special care, though it is hard to imagine how the authorities were able to take account of even such details in the turmoil. It is true that I did not meet any emigrants who had opposed the authorities in Bulgaria and who were not compensated in some way or another for their resistance in Turkey by being given an apartment or a comfortable state job. I do not see, however, anything wrong about this, because I am sure that they had been actuated by their own conscience rather than by some kind of external encouragement or promise.
It emerges from the stories, although it has not been mentioned by the official Turkish authorities lately, that those who were unable to name relatives willing to put them up were destined to be settled in the distant regions of Anatolia, inhabited by Kurds. Perhaps, the idea was to populate the war-torn zone with grateful settlers who would be loyal to the government and whose presence might serve to "civilise" the inhabitants by a different way of life. On the other hand, however, this could hardly pacify the local Turks, for whom the state had done less in their whole lifetime than for the immigrants from Bulgaria in a week.
Seven years later, the idea seems to have failed ignominiously - in the long run, not one single immigrant has settled down in Diarbakir or around the Van Lake, the Kurds continue to be who they have always been and the locals in any place keep crying giaour at the newcomers as ever.
The stories of the border-crossing sound like long, miserable, paranoid dreams where it takes days to cross the few kilometres to the border, the loved ones are lost en route, messages are eagerly being sought amongst myriad scraps of paper on the walls of Edirne station, people are waiting for a superior power to resolve their problems and entrust themselves to their fates, but all the time believe that whatever happens, it must be better than the Hell they have just left behind on the yonder side. For they may be strictly required to live in a particular place, engage in a particular job and get a particular pay, but they will at least be able to decide themselves what they are to be called and what language they shall speak. These are the stories of the people who never returned to Bulgaria after the "big trip" - for those who returned the dream may have entirely different colours.
So Edirne station and the camp beside it were the gateway - the final horizon that the actors in this story were obliged to cross: this was where their common past ended, lying ahead was only individual strife in different places of a world which was familiar, yet strange, where they were addressed in their mother tongue, but in a different word order, where they were served their own food, but the order of the courses was different, where they were accepted as brothers and sisters, but were referred to as heathen g??mens.
K???K ?EKMECE - ARNAVUTK?Y - ARNAVUTK?Y
_aban accompanied me to the road on my way back, worried that the dolmu_-microbus might be too expensive for me, hugged me and said that he would call me as soon as he had a phone to call from. It was already eight o'clock in the evening: it takes an hour for the microbus to struggle through the traffic jam, I calculated, another half an hour in the tram to Emin?n?, from there at least an hour by bus to Arnavutk?y where I will look for a pub to watch the second half of the Valencia-Be_ikta_ match. At half past nine I was still by the Aksaray - I got off, because I saw people running, I thought they were probably running to find a place in a pub where the coded transmission could be watched. I followed them, but it turned out that they were catching a bus on which the sign said "Arnavutk?y" in big black letters, it was just leaving. I was sweating like hell, but happy to have discovered something, a new itinerary, which was perhaps shorter than the coast road, and if so, then I could actually get there in time for the second half. There was no traffic on this road, the bus dashed along and whenever it stopped, which it did rarely, only men got on, moustached, dark-skinned men in deformed, worn-down shoes, shabby smeary trousers and uniform-like overcoats bought in the bazaar. I, in turn, just stared at a book by Isabel Fonesca, happy that I would get home quickly, even taking a detour, because in this monster of a city you never know where you are, you just realise suddenly that you are there, even though you feel that you are going in the opposite direction. When we left, one after the other, the ugly industrial buildings behind, and the bus did not stop at all any more, I started squirming in my seat, put Fonesca in my pocket, took out my map. At this sight, the Arnauts standing around me started to grin and gesticulate, and appeared less and less like people who were heading for my cosy, elegant Arnavutk?y. None of them knew how to read a map, of course, they just kept saying "Arnavutk?y", but I could tell from the way they pronounced the word that there was some vital error and trouble ahead: either I had got lost, or this bus was not going to get to Arnavutk?y before the morning. It was about eleven o'clock when I got off, and they kept gesticulating and saying: here you are, this is Arnavutk?y, but there was neither sea, nor lights there, only these horrid far off suburbs, a slice of Asia wedged in Europe, not even the real Arnavutk?y, literally the Village of the Arnauts. I tried my luck with the only taxi around. The driver, who knew how to read the map, muttered and showed me that we were not even on it. The radio roared, I asked him how the match was going, he said that it was probably going swell for me, for the Be_ikta_ was losing. I looked at him, genuinely offended, and said in my best body language that I was a Be_ikta_ fan and wanted to watch the match. I got in the car, we hardly drove three hundred metres, when he stopped by a tea-shop - it was probably his regular hangout - a place of four hundred square metres with a population distribution of five moustached guys per square metre, all staring at a single screen. Two guys jumped up immediately, the others made some room for me in the fourth row, and they bought me three cups of tannin-tasting tea one after the other, because the driver had explained to them that this European knew accurately the names of the entire Be_ikta_ team, including the reserves and the coach. The taxi driver sat loyally through till the inglorious end of the match and then, for a small fortune drove me back to glamorous Arnavutk?y. To Arnavutk?y, which, in a bee-line, is exactly as far from K???k ?ekmece as from the other Arnavutk?y, and I had three quarters of an hour, so I amused myself with the idea that if two neighbourhoods, in or around a city, could have the same name and still be diametrically opposed to each other both in terms of architecture and population, then everything in this country could be duplicated without it bothering anyone, because everybody knew one’s own place - there could be two capital cities, two identities, two conceptions of the state, two histories, words and gestures could mean completely different things, doublethink, Orwell would say. In this sense, each decision can be implemented (or shelved) in two different ways, there can be two stories behind each event, or a story can tell two events at the same time, and this is how it must be, for this cleverly edited film, this road movie is not for broadcasting, only for being spread out, it is no more than a celluloid strip which can be held in the hand and the cuts stuck side by side can be looked at, and thus the illusion that anything follows in consequence of anything can be carefully avoided.
In a way, Atat?rk was the first g??men here: he was also from the Balkans, then he came here and made a country out of this utter chaos... And now we are here...(Ne?mi, Yalova, December 1996)In February 1997 the Turkish authorities threatened the world with the expulsion of four hundred thousand Bulgarian Turks. By mid-May they realised what an idiocy it was and called off the action. Although they backed off, the threat is still in the air, creating an atmosphere of constant theoretical and practical danger for the characters in our story.
The most conspicuous thing is the offhand manner in which the present decision-makers in Ankara have handled until recently the results of the statistical and sociological surveys concerning the Bulgarian immigrants. It must be acknowledged as a mitigating factor that no two sources have published identical data. Karpat, for example - referring to non-official but reliable sources - estimates the number of Muslim (predominantly Turkish) inhabitants forcefully renamed in 1984 at three million (Karpat, 1990, p. 17), whereas the Bulgarian side claims that 847 584 Turks had lived in the country before the great emigration wave of 1989 (Vasileva, 1992, p. 348). The two numbers cannot be reduced to a common denominator, even if we assume that Karpat included Pomaks and Muslim Gypsies in his calculations, since all these together could still not have been more than 800 000 people. The only undebated point is that 369 839 Turks left Bulgaria in a single year. At the same time, Vasileva claims that 154 937 people returned within one year (Vasileva, 1992, p. 348), whereas according to Karpat, 8 000 people in all had changed their minds (Karpat, 1990, p. 20). When the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (commonly called the "Turkish party") received seven per cent of the votes at the first free elections in Bulgaria, it became clear that talking about millions is absurd; however, even Vasileva does not mention in her otherwise thorough study that at least half of those who had returned reemigrated to Turkey, and the migration has not stopped ever since.
Yet, even this statistical mess does not give an adequate explanation of the estimate of the Turkish authorities of the number of Bulgarian Turks at 400 000. If the contingent to be expelled did not include the 250 000 Bulgarian refugees who had received Turkish citizenship in 1989-90 (and who knows if it did or not), then we could infer from this number that barely 200 000 Turks were left in Bulgaria (out of 850 000 immigrants 215 000 remained in Turkey, later 400 000 more immigrated). How is it then possible that. according to the latest surveys, the "Turkish party" still expects five per cent of the votes at the upcoming elections (the author refers to the 1997 parliamentary elections - editor’s note), which means that a Turkish minority of at least four hundred thousand members is present in Bulgaria, since this party is supported only by ethnic Turks and perhaps Pomaks, while among the minorities many people vote for other parties.
The most probable interpretation of the February statement is that it was nothing more than a bluffing message, a cunning awkward Oriental code intended for the West, which was more and more visibly repulsed by the idea of letting Turkey into the united European structures. The meaning of the gesture must be something like this: if the West desires to bring about political changes in Bulgaria, totally fallen apart as a result of the Socialist government, then they can count on the cooperation of the Turkish government, now as ever: the deportation of 400 000 poor people will almost certainly finish off the neighbouring country and accelerate the process of "redemocratisation". It would be the role of Turkish politics again to help the country towards the right direction - say towards the victory of the democratic opposition - just like in 1989, when ?zal, the head of state, opened the Turkish-Bulgarian border for potential ?migr?s, and thus started the "avalanche of political changes" in Bulgaria. I heard this from Vedat Ercin personally, who at that time used to hold the office of Deputy Secretary of State dealing with Turks abroad and who otherwise seemed like a nice guy, utterly incapable of inventing such an absurd idea by himself. Turkey would be willing to do the West this favour even now, despite the fact that the West keeps admonishing Turkey for its bad human rights record, the entrenched, and unprecedented, corruption of its top administration, the Mafia presence, and countless other things in addition, so commonplace that the local power elite can not even figure out why they are considered problems. The fact that this decision involves playing with the life of (presumably) 400 000 human beings is not regarded as a problem either - preserving "manpower" has never been a chief virtue of this state.
This time, however, Erbakan and ?iller, this duet of prime ministers working in rotation, walked into the trap: the lives of ethnic Turks were at stake, who - according both to republican, Kemalist principles and to traditional Islam culture - were entitled to refuge in the motherland any time. The idea of expelling brothers in blood and faith has never before occurred to anybody in the history of Turkish statehood, and the only thing that can explain it now is the crisis of an a priori schizophrenic state ideology.
The late president ?zal's decision to receive several hundred thousand (how should he know exactly how many) Bulgarian Turkish refugees in 1989 was very fortunate. Whether it was the right step to take or no, is still and largely disputed today, but without doubt he killed several birds with one stone - in the ideological, in the political, and in the economic field. With its initial spur, the emigration process, was suddenly appreciated and regarded by the West as having been the catalyst of the Bulgarian political upheavals. Human rights organisations were also satisfied with it, because in the face of a mass emigration, the Bulgarians were compelled to admit that there was after all a Turkish minority in their country, and on the other hand, it revealed Turkey to the world in a new light: as a country not only militant and exclusive, but also tolerant and receptive to the exiles. The West rewarded this new image with plenty of aid and support for building projects, thirty per cent, at the most, of which - according to Ismet Sever, president of the Union of Balkanite Turks and some other observers - was used as intended, while the rest trickled into the enterprises of various government officials. And finally, this act conformed to both Islamic and Kemalist traditional norms, between which two poles the country had been wavering for decades.
Kemal Atat?rk, the first President of the Turkish Republic, reckoned that Turkey was the place where all Turks should live in. Today, we may admire or revile him for his not that original idea, we may curse him as a bloody dictator or respect him as an ardent military leader and founder of a state. It can not be denied, though, that there have been few dreamers of his kind in the world who have managed to put the modern-times ideal of the nation-state so perfectly into practice. And furthermore, he achieved this in such a seemingly hopeless land as Asia Minor, which, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, was the homeof a tribal Muslim conglomerate that lived in miserable conditions and were far enough from the national idea principle and hardly its candidates. Atat?rk did no less than invent "the Turk" - he adapted L. B?rne's 1830 slogan for the Junges Deutschland : "We want to be free Germans") to local conditions, making it sound in the following way: "Let us all be Turks, so that we could be free". The only thing he added - in thought if not in word - was "And I myself am going to determine what a Turk is - a European image, women without veils, Latin script, more alcohol and sex, and as little bowing towards Mecca as possible”. Many Albanians, Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and sons of other nations, whose names and minds were not easily made to adopt the Turkish pattern, became all victims of his conception of the state, but its other elements were only partially realised.
?zal's 1989 decision did not ruffle many feathers even in Islam circles, which were otherwise not very well disposed towards him, since, in their conception, hijra was a holy duty for each Muslim. Hijra or hegira is quite a flexible notion, its archetype is the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, that is, metaphorically, from the place which is not desirable for practising the Muslim faith to a place where there are no obstacles for the believer. It has three main interpretations: the hijra is a spiritual escape from the profanity of reality, an actual escape from the place where atrocities are committed against the Muslim population (this is a possible interpretation in the case of the Bulgarian Turks); and, finally, an exodus from a place of destitution and poverty. In those times, the Turks, mostly believers, did not realise that the vast majority of the immigrants were inveterate atheists, therefore they regarded their exodus as a perhaps unconscious, blood-driven hijra.
EXISTENCE - THOSE WHO HAVE MADE IT
The migration of peoples has always a good effect on the economy, because a lot of energy is liberated, which is then transferred into work. Just take a look around - here in Turkey it is mainly the immigrants who are making it.(Sami, Ankara, October 1996)Sami, Sabahatin and Turgut are three brothers who run a family enterprise: they sell building material and whatever else is needed in Russia. After they immigrated, they spread around and worked on constructions; they lived in misery, but gradually made their way onto the social ladder through hard work: they were offered state jobs and an apartment for which they had to pay an absurdly low rent; they were promoted to various manager positions, until they eventually launched their own company with the money they had saved up. Today each of them has a car and a house, but they have retained their state-owned apartments as well, since they have got used to them. They dragged me proudly from one of their customers to the other - you could see that everybody here respected them, they had credit, they did not have to pay for everything immediately. The first thing here was work, leisure time and rest came next, money made things happen here - they explained the basics of business to me as if I had just wandered out of former-time anti-world for a management training course. It had taken them two or three years to find their feet here, and then everything began going smoothly - but for the fact that they were beginning to forget their Bulgarian, even their Russian was better. They invited me to their place in Pursaklar, to the housing estate that the government had built for the immigrants, and showed me the small but comfortable apartment. Sami introduced me to his wife who also worked - I had already met the daughter who worked as the company's secretary and pursued her studies at the same time. This was the only way to make a living, he continued, to have all the family work, otherwise they would become like the locals who would not let their wives go to work under any circumstances, and would rather starve along with their million kids. They were grateful to the state and would bless it as long as they lived for generously allocating them the apartment - the locals were able to live their whole lives in digs and never attain anything better than that. It so happened that I met the ideal socialist family while the wildest capitalism was raging "outside”.
There must be hundreds of stories like that of Sami and his family amongst those who live on the Pursaklar housing estate. The main motifs were repeated by practically everybody I talked to: the first years of hardship and toil; the determination to stay; the helping hand of the state arriving just in time: work, regular income, subsidised apartment; the opening up of the Russian market - the knowledge of the language became a valuable asset; their women given opportunity to start work; only a few children in a family, so their education need not be spared; the cohesion of the family... The lazy, uneducated locals and the hard-working, highly-educated Bulgarians, who were quick to adapt and who had learned how to earn money which they immediately reinvested, mostly in goods and real estate.
Thus, the immigrant is nothing more and nothing less than the Kemalist ideal of a human being - at least according to the self-interpretation of those in Ankara.
TIKA is a company founded by young and ambitious immigrants. They counsel first-time entrepreneurs abroad, mainly in Central Asia, about acquiring capital for a particular project. The conversation tends also to be mostly in Russian, but the boys speak several other foreign languages. Deniz, the blond, (hardly) thirty-year-old young man completes Sami's story with the general and theoretical particularities of the immigrant's life. He reckons that immigrants are successful precisely because they are rootless in this country, and therefore cannot count on anybody but themselves and this increases their potential. They want to integrate and prove that they have a place in this society through hard work. The state has helped a lot, it must be said - their entrance exam into the university was easier than the regular one, they were given free food and accommodation, all of which he is grateful. Many of the locals are jealous, yet employers tend to prefer immigrants, because they do not steal, do not shirk and do the same job for less money. Consumer society came to Turkey at the same time as they did - that was when privatisation began, when bank services started to develop, and they, along with the locals, learnt what a credit card was, but already four or five years later they felt completely at home, their thinking switched to local norms (i.e. all he thought about was business), he bought a decent apartment in town and ceased to be frustrated about being a mere immigrant. Of course, there are also great losers among the immigrants, he says, for example older people or agricultural workers, because the land is private here, everybody cultivates his own without help, and those who could not get used to urban life and its inherent apartment went back to Bulgaria. Those who manage to make a living and stay are working really hard for to be able to save up to buy a plot of land and, if necessary, spend years building a house, brick by brick, with a little garden where they can grow some vegetables for their jars of pickle.
The Turkish authorities, according to the hearsay, allocated apartments and state jobs in Ankara to those who had "earned" them in their past days - during a period distant and doomed to oblivion - that is, to resistance fighters and informers to the Turkish intelligence. The official version has it, though, that the apartments were allocated by drawing lots. As a matter of fact, in many cases it was hard to tell how the respective people had been appointed to their positions, because they had certainly not been trained for them. I met a guy in one of the outskirts of Istanbul who told me, after his fourth raki, that he had been loitering around in Turkey for a year and a half, when he was found (he did not mention by whom) and questioned as to whether he had been really imprisoned in Bulgaria, and when it turned out that he had refused to accept his new name, he was immediately allocated the apartment that other immigrants had to pay for. Still, knowing the stories told by the people in Pursaklar, this cannot have been the only criterion, especially because the number of apartments allotted in Ankara by far exceeded the number of Turkish rebels in Bulgaria during the forty-five years of Communism. The Ankara community seems that homogeneous not because people with similar background - life-history, training and social status - were gathered here (although these things were probably taken into account: the Turkish state did not bother very much to aid the low-skilled and the elderly, leaving things to follow the "natural selection" principle, and also taking great care not to let Gypsies who pretended to be Turks enter the country). In a larger measure, homogeneity is due, to the fact that everyone here lives in the framework of the same overall narrative: the stories about the immigrants' life in Bulgaria were as varied as those about their life in Turkey were similar - lives which were hard, but, in the final analysis, successful - a precisely measured balance, which made it impossible to interpret the contempt for the locals as a disrespect for the country, and I felt all along that whatever one of them was saying could have equally been voiced by any other of them - as though they were narrating one other's lives, giving voice to each other's ideas.
SETTLERS AND SETTLEMENTS
The inhabitants of Pursaklar do love the place, but, at the same time, they would leave it immediately if they could: they are attached to it in the same way as you are attached to a second-hand jacket - you feel it would be a betrayal to get rid of a piece of clothing which served so well at its prime, but you do not feel like wearing it in the presence of other people. Objectively speaking, Pursaklar is a bizarre place indeed: five thousand people live in sixty-two blocks on top of a hill in the midst of a wasteland about ten kilometres from Ankara and two or three kilometres from Pursaklar village. That was the only place, they said, where the government could find land for sale; none of the immigrants living in the capital city believes that they wanted to lock them up in a ghetto. There are no mosques here, only a loudspeaker installed on a pole at the bus stop, from which, by wire, the voice of the muezzin from the neighbouring village can be heard; there are no pubs, no caf?s, clubs or restaurants - why should there be, asks Sezer, my faithful guide over this period, people only come here to sleep. In case you go out, you do not mind spending ten dollars for a taxi to take you home. There are some stalls, however, selling alcohol, soft drinks, tobacco and basic foodstuffs. I talked to some of the owners of these; they are satisfied with the business, but "if my wife could get a better job", says Ibrahim, who only covers for his wife over the weekends, "I would hand in my license immediately."
During the day potatoes are sold from trucks, the old ladies in shalwars and shawls - pensioners - stand in queues with patience they had learnt in the old days. One third of the inhabitants of Pursaklar are pensioners, that is people supported only by their families, because they do not get a pension from either the Turkish or the Bulgarian state: the former does not even have a stipulation to do so, whereas the latter refrains from remittting the three or four dollar allowance per month with actully no particular reason. Should they attempt to go to Bulgaria and fetch it themselves, they will be compelled to wait in offices for months, spending several times the amount of their pension on food and accommodation. Many of them try to cultivate the land between the buildings, trying to grow vegetables on the pebbly soil rather for the sake of working in the garden than with any genuine expectation of success. "You will never see the locals do that", Sezer points at the gardens, "they've never even held a hoe in their hands".
The settlement in Yalova and the Kestel neighbourhood by Bursa are not very different from Pursaklar. In Yalova the immigrants' territory is separated from the outside world by a fence, the place has a decent entrance opposite the tea-shop, which constitutes the only local spot for community life. There used to be a pub, but it was locked up by the gendarmerie, because - Ilyas tells me - on one occasion some locals turned up, got drunk and called the immigrants to account for why they got everything free - it ended in a fight. "The locals do not even know how to drink - they get drunk immediately, and then have to prove themselves", he adds with contempt.
The inhabitants of Ka_ithane, one of the immigrant settlements built in an inner neighbourhood of Istanbul have no doubt that the wire fence is not merely a symbolic but a very real defence against the locals, who jealously call the place a "resort". "They came to bully us the other day, but our kids are much stronger and don't like at all to be called giaours. We complained to the police that they kept coming here to disturb us, and the policeman told us - not officially, of course - to settle things by not hesitating to knock any intruders on the head. Then he would take matters in his hands and stitch them up. Only those we invite get beyond the fence, everybody else is an intruder or a burglar. This will not happen of course, but it is not hard to understand our people: they are more irritated not only because they live a harassed and hectic life, but because the place itself is oppressive." The problem with the housing estate is not that the buildings are not standard (the ceilings of the apartments are low, the rooms are confined), even so they are all right to live in and the immigrants “are happy to have anything at all”, but the buildings are built so close together that the only space between them is a corridor-like alley. There is no public lighting, a punishment of the Islamist local government to the immigrants from whom they got merely three votes at the previous elections. "We are living in a ghetto, the families only maintain contact with each other - our culture is just too different from theirs", Ali remarks finally. But by night, even in the darkness, there is a bustling social life, light streams from the open doors of shops and confectioneries, the children amuse themselves by playing leapfrog, badminton and football, boys chat up girls, adults stand in groups, talking in the shafts of light, “businessmen” sell “uncostly” brandy and dry pork sausage smuggled in from Bulgaria.
Mehmet, the owner of the tea-shop urges me to enter the store-room of a grocery which is furnished on the ground floor of a half-constructed building. We sit down with all the others, drinking thin Turkish beer and chewing greasy, thick-cut Bulgarian salami to go with it. Me and seven other people are listening to Sali, who is telling stories, now in Turkish, now in Bulgarian, about his work on a construction site in the Soviet Union, where he earned relatively good money, but later left everything behind in Bulgaria. He could not get used to the cramped apartment he was given, so he decided to build a house for himself here in Kira?, a distant suburb of Istanbul, whatever the cost. He would like to restore to his family the standard of living that they were used to "back home". He saved up some money, bought a plot of land, and then spent a week digging the foundations and putting up the walls with the help of his relatives. They finished a room, moved out, rented out the apartment, and ever since he has been buying building materials with the rent, and building a little more each weekend. In two years the house already has a roof - two or three more years and everything will be in its place.
There are several hundred immigrants living like that in Kira?, in the one completed room of their house, designed to be a palace - no days of rest and recreation, subordinating the entire life of the family to a single cause. Those who were able to even got their parents moved into the single room with them: more rented apartments, less expenditure, faster progress in construction. The others whom I drank beer with in the store-room - which doubled as a speakeasy - were also wearing denim tainted with oil-paint and lime. The company changed completely three times till the evening. They all had finished up their working hours in some urban area, then, after a two-hour trip back and a quick beer, got stuck into working on their houses.
And when the house is finally ready one day, there will be a road, and light, and shops, and pubs, they will have built another city within the boundaries of Istanbul, the inhabitants of which are to recreate the world from which they fled seven years ago, or rather a world that existed only in their memories.
"This country will go to ruin because there are no women here and what everybody wants is to fuck all the time", remarked Sezer, the guy from Pursaklar, who was just about to join the army and so had spent his last two weeks doing the things he would not be able to in the barracks. Whenever he saw a dark-skinned, moustached man, he could not refrain from calling him a "fucking lazy crow". He was deeply convinced that the reason why there were no women around was that the damned locals were hiding them and filling their heads with moral bullshit, so that they were eventually unable to have a decent fuck, or only from behind, keeping the real thing for their husbands - not like in Bulgaria, where a man could easily start up with a girl and nobody had a word to say. And these crows, Sezer continues, who do not let their daughters come out of the house, and who spend entire days loitering on the streets, have the nerve to paw every old woman they see. "Our tragedy, us g??mens', is to have to live in the same country as these people."
The world must change here or we will never adapt to it in our lifetimes.(Ali, Istanbul, December 1996)In Istanbul and in the cities along the Western coast of Asia Minor I realised how the content of the word g??men had changed over the previous years. After his immigration, Ali, the well-to-do computer engineer from Istanbul had lived for two years in the Ka_ithane camp, in a site building made of plywood and tin, together with several hundred other families. In spite of the miserable conditions they lived a cheerful life in the camp, Ali recalls. In the evenings they sat together, talked, listened to music and danced - they were a real community and he made some true friends. "Economically I integrated quickly - I found work immediately, because I knew a hundred times as much as the best local computer engineers, but I will never manage to adapt culturally. We came from a country where everyone was equal and we did not have to bow before someone just because his position was higher, whereas the locals cannot think of anything but their position in the hierarchy." In his opinion, the g??mens are open-hearted and never say yes if they mean no; they do not play roles, they are not hypocritical, it is not their life goal to cheat the other. The locals are used to living in misery and have no special needs, whereas the g??men considers it very important to have an apartment, a house and a plot of land. He would never mix with these people, because there is nothing to talk about with them. When he goes abroad or to conferences, Ali talks only to Bulgarians and does not pay attention to his countrymen. He recently read in a newspaper that the immigrants were not even real Turks, and yet, without making any effort, they were given everything by the state: it was probably written by a Kurdish bastard who wanted to lick the ass of the Refah party and be more Turkish than the Turks, Ali commented.
In turn, Levent, the medical student from Istanbul, asked me in absolute seriousness, if I thought it possible that they, the immigrants belonged to the same gene pool as the natives. Yet, it is a historical fact that the Bulgarians considered the prohibition against ethnic and religious mingling as more imperative than the prohibition against incest, they laughed even at Kemal Atat?rk himself for proposing to Dimitrina Kovacheva, the daughter of a Bulgarian minister in the years before World War I, when the later founder of the Turkish state was serving as a military attach? in Sofia. That reminded me of the Jewish Diaspora living in China, who did not differ at all from the locals in colour or the shape of their eyes, yet were just as Jewish as their Ethiopian co-religionists who, in turn, were as black as tar. It does not seem to be a good idea, however, to further dwell on this delicate matter, because it will bring no good. "Still, being a Jew would be different", the guy said meditatively, "at least I would not have to identify with such riffraff." "Wouldn't you marry a local girl if you fell in love with her?", I attempted, unsuccessfully, to provoke him. "That is absolutely out of question, that would be unhealthy", he said without thinking.
I addressed Nazme, as I did almost everyone I talked to, in Bulgarian. We met in Kestel, near by Bursa. He introduced himself - his name was Sergei - that was how he had been called in the last few years and he liked it. He used to be the manager of a restaurant in Kurdzhali and was practically untouched by the renaming; he thought it was fair enough that only the official language was allowed to be spoken within the territory of a particular state - Kurds were not allowed to babble in Kurdish in Turkey either. The only reason he was stupid enough to move out here was this mass psychosis that affected them all, so he rushed out after his relatives and did not know that he would be transported immediately to the Eastern parts among the wild Kurds, because the state had this idea of sending them all over the place. I came to slowly: it was as though the road movie had been cut for a moment, and a Bulgarian propaganda film, unmasking the sly machinations of the Turkish state, was being broadcast in its place by mistake. Nazme referred to the locals solely as Gypsies and beasts - they ought to look in a mirror before they call us giaours, he said, why on earth should they believe all g??mens to be thieves and their women whores merely because the latter do not cover themselves in veils. But if these people knew what morons they were, they would hide for shame. "We were Turks in Bulgaria and are giaours here. Once I have paid off my debt to the state, I will buzz off from here immediately..."
Nazme-Sergei drove me back to the city, cursing the Arnauts all the way - they had paid for their driving licences with sheep, but had never learnt how to drive. He also told me about how Bursa, the most European Turkish city, had started to prosper after the arrival of the immigrants. The unskilled and elderly g??mens were left to their fate. The "human market" was full of them every day early in the morning and you could hire a woman for the whole day for ten dollars, men did hard physical labour for pennies, lived in dumps and starved, but could not return, because there was nowhere to return to.
I arrived at the human market in Bursa at daybreak, but there was already a lot of bustling. One area was swarming with old women in shalwars and young, but run-down women, the other was full of stubbly men wearing torn overalls. It was a weird hunt: every so often a truck would grind to a halt and crowd would mill around it pushing and shoving - the chosen ones jump up on the truck, the crowd disperses and nobody gets angry at anybody else; they offer each other cigarettes and carry on loafing. Some employers make their choice of “working flesh” within seconds, others get out of the truck and eye the candidates for several minutes, making a big fuss and enjoying the chaos, playing for time, almost touching their future employee's biceps and belly muscles. As the daylight increases, so does the crowd, lining up on either side of the road, some of them crossing from time to time in the hope of standing a better business chance on the other side. The campaign takes place absolutely dispassionately, according to a set of pre-practiced gestures and strategies, without overbearing emotions. When no truck is seen around, they talk to me willingly - there is hardly anybody who does not speak Bulgarian. They ask me if I have any news about their native village - I must, if that is where I have come from. They cannot understand how someone who speaks the language is not Bulgarian. _aban comes from a village close to Kurdzhali - nobody wants to employ him full time, because he is too old and not trained for anything except tobacco-growing, which is no good to him since he hasn't got a plot of land.
Ali, a young man of twenty-five or so, is also unskilled; he has tried his luck in several jobs, but did not succeed at any of them - earned practically nothing. Now he rents out a room with his wife and two children and comes out here every day. Somehow they have managed to get by. None of them has social insurance - this, they say, is also a way of life - no worse than having a regular job. Here you have only one-day bosses, you are not obliged to do anything you do not want to, and if you do not feel like working, you simply don't come out on the market, and, what is more, nobody can sack you. "I get work almost every time I come out here - these guys know that we work much better than the locals", he said, finally letting the cat of his g??men identity out of the bag.
The Balkanite Turks' Union for Solidarity and Culture, or, the Dernek (Union) as it is better known, is an independent non-governmental organisation, according to its statute. It was established in 1983, but only started to function legally in 1985, when those in power realised that it was worth paying attention to the warnings they were receiving that something was about to explode in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian side has always considered the Dernek as a branch office of the Turkish secret service and the military lobby, which may be true, in so much as the Dernek principles are undeniably reminiscent of the Kemalist world-view of the military and the security services. However, if that is the case, it is hard to explain how the organisation dared to defy the then President ?zal - “a latter-day Atat?rk” - in 1989, advising that it would be better not to let all those people enter the country, and that the question of emigration would be better settled by a new bilateral treaty. "Now you can see what it has come to", Ismet Sever, the president of the Dernek, explained impetuously, "three hundred thousand people at the border, tumult, chaos - anybody who wants to enter the country can find a way to do so. The problems should have been solved there, locally, but instead, they shifted the responsibility onto Turkey, and this state is simply incapable of accomplishing the task."
Listening to Mr. Sever, it sounds as though someone even more powerful than the government must be behind him: it would be more than irresponsible to give voice to one's disdain for the Turkish Islamist government in power so spectacularly and boldly. But then again, his opinion of the previous regime is no better - they unscrupulously stole the foreign money that was intended for building apartments. He estimates that barely five per cent of the immigrants received the apartments they were promised. At least three hundred thousand people entered the country illegally ever since, just as they had predicted - it was only reasonable to expect that families would seek reunion.
As we talked, the impression grew on me that this rather offhand treatment of information concealed political ambitions. The Dernek, although it does not receive even the smallest budget subsidy, is rapidly expanding - they currently have their branches everywhere except in Ankara and have opened offices, operating as clubs and caf?s as well, in almost every district of almost every town of the West coast. In half-built Kira?, for example, they have already opened an office, the Dernek in Yalova is the most dazzling building in the neighbourhood, designed with guest rooms on the top floor, its caf? also serves as an employment agency. The membership fee everywhere is large enough to cover the pay of full-time executive officers who meet regularly at the Istanbul headquarters, in my friend Mehmet's tea-shop.
The organisation in Bursa publishes its own paper and I had a long conversation with the editor-in-chief, Sami Kocao_lu, a retired army officer, amateur poet and journalist. Mr. Kocao_lu said exactly the same things as Mr. Sever, perhaps the only difference being that he estimated the proportion of those immigrants who had been provided with lodgings by the government at ten per cent.” The rest were hard hit by the transmigration, he says, the old people found themselves in the void and those who could make it, owe their existence exclusively to their own efforts.” Finally he says a few words about Atat?rk: the Balkanite immigrants are the repositories of Kemalist traditions, it is with them and through them that the dream of the founder of the republic - a European Turkey - can be best realised.
There are lots of g??mens in this neighbourhood. This is where we had Mrs. ?iller elected, because her parents were also immigrants from Dobrudja. In the beginning she worked well, but then she had a row with Mesut Yilmaz, the president of the Kemalist party, and hitched up with Erbakan's Islamists. Here the MP will be whoever we propose. Now we are about to give a push to Yilmaz, because we are really fed up with the rest here.(Mehmet, Avcilar, November 1996)However, it seems that the governing parties are fed up with the g??men-focused discourse spreading as rapidly as the Dernek offices. One of the activists took me to the camp in Ka_ithane, where refugees have been living for seven years. Water supply and "French loo" in the courtyard, each family lives in their narrow box. There are some vegetables planted in the area between the barracks, as usual, but otherwise there is mud and filth everywhere, the stale odour of misery inside, sheep grazing beside the buildings. "The first thing we built for ourselves was the mortuary", my guide points at a green building, "because the older folks couldn't put up with these conditions, even though they were given free medical care." It soon turned out that in the Pendik district, in the Asian part of Istanbul, the apartments of forty or fifty families had been ready for two years, all except for the public utilities. The only people who visit the place nowadays are officials from the Kemalist Anap party, to reassure the immigrants that everything would be all right the moment they get into power. But this does not depend on the g??mens: the only moral they could draw from politics so far is that if they do not vote Refah, i.e. the Islamists, they will not have water supply and will have to stay where they are, in the camp.
A real trap for a politician: this is how a dialogue with the masses is held in Turkey and the Balkans in general.
Parallel with the losses of the central power, the local authorities gained power, basically took over the control of their region and got out of central control gradually.(Jelavich, 1983, p. 105)In the beginning it was hard to understand why the Anap spent so much energy taking care of the souls, of the spiritual needs of the Balkanite immigrants, since the number of g??mens who had arrived in the successive waves over the years could not have much exceeded two million, even taking account of their direct offspring - a small proportion, as low as several per cent, in a country of sixty million people. They do not even try their luck in Ankara, in Pursaklar nobody has ever heard about the Dernek, and further to the east the Kemalists have no chances in the present climate. However, the continuing loss of credibility of the governing Islamists is creating in Dernek new hopes for better results - in the beginning at least on the more limited level of the local governments on the West coast of Asia Minor and the European areas - by way of compensation for their loss on the national level. Experience to date has demonstrated that the political elite elected in Istanbul or the surrounding area generally come to possess the real power in Ankara, sooner or later: the republican myth has it that this region serves as a model for the Asian territories and, according to the Islamist myth, Istanbul continues to be the spiritual capital. Therefore, in the struggle for control of this territory and the mythological power that accrues to it, the g??mens' vote could actually be crucial.
This was not the first time I had visited the ruined camp in K???k ?ekmece. The night before I had stumbled along the concrete debris in the moonlight, a somewhat bizarrely romantic scene, with the sound of the waves in the background: again, hardly the scenery fit for a road movie - actually more reminiscent of a meagre budget disaster film.
The light was on in Mehmet's hut but nowhere else - God knows where he got the electricity from. One of the kids is sickly, he says, his wife could not find work as a result and the eldest daughter has just got a job as a secretary. The two smaller kids were already asleep, the elder girl, made up, was sitting on the edge of the bed - looking more or less well for her setting. They shifted up on the bed for me. In the tin stove, they were burning the drift-wood found on the seashore. "We haven't been able to leave the camp, although we were warned half a year ago that they would pull it down. We have paid the instalments for the apartment, but we have not been allocated one yet, and we have no relatives in Turkey. If we had any, we would have gone to them straight away in 1989." The wind blew through the gaps in the walls of the hut, Mehmet tried to stick a piece of newspaper into one of the gaps in the tin roof. "When they came with the bulldozers, nobody believed that they would bang into the huts while people were living in them. But they did. We were told to get out, everybody took only what could be carried along. The furniture, things like that, were left inside." An hour later it started to rain, the water was trickling down the inside of the wall. It seemed impossible to insulate those walls. "Then we collected a few doors, straightened a few tin plates and set up our house on a relatively undamaged concrete block. With the kids, we cannot live like Mustafa, who just lies down on his bed under the big blue sky and covers himself with a few cardboard pieces. He is there now, you can look at him." I looked at him. Mustafa was sleeping under the rubble on some kind of mattress, the rain was pouring down on him, but the nylon sheet he had over the paper kept his den dry. "We were told that the camp had to be pulled down because of the city-planning, you know, it used to be military barracks before and it was not very pretty here, on the seaside. But for us it was OK, we had a room, heating and water."
The next day, on the day of my long trip, I met both Mustafa and his wedding sponsor ?zer personally. ?zer had more respect for order, he had built his hut closer to the sea and kept a portrait of Atat?rk in it. They had just arrived from the market where they had picked out the best of the leftover rotten vegetables and fruits; they had also been to the butcher to pick up whatever was left after the dog-owners had been. "We were too old for them, we weren't accepted for any jobs. When the camp was pulled down, they told us that we could go fuck ourselves." Among the ruins some people were digging in the garbage, hoping to find something, anything that might still be put to use. A few hundred metres further two Gypsy families had put up their tents, reckoning that they too might find something under the panel pieces. "We daren’t even expect an apartment", ?zer said, "because we didn't have enough cash to put down a deposit. But its just as well", he grinned, "because those who did didn't get one either."
Saban (I spent the rest of the afternoon at his place) came up to me with a bucket full of mushrooms. "I just picked them, they’re really big after the rain yesterday." Above the hut there was a Turkish flag on a pole several metres high. In the beginning his Bulgarian was peppered with Russian words - he had not spoken the language for years, he frankly explained. Originally he had worked as an electrician, then as a leather merchant; he had two shops in town, but his friend and business partner who happened to be a Kurd, unwittingly ruined him: one day a group of people came into the shop armed and said they were going to shoot the guy before his eyes, because he had deserted their terrorist group. _aban signed a cheque - to bail the guy out, but in order to cover it, he had to sell the shops, with the goods, within the afternoon. In the meantime his wife left him and moved to another camp with the children. He bought some leather on credit and went off to sell the stuff in Georgia, but the moment he crossed the border, two Mafia gangs came to blow over his leather, he was kept in custody for nearly a month, until finally he escaped back to Turkey with the help of a Georgian girl after a thousand adventures. "The whole thing is like the script of an action film - sometimes I myself find it hard to believe. But the nervous breakdown I had afterwards was very real. While I was in hospital, the girl who had saved my life several times in Georgia became a whore, and ever since she's been walking the streets around Aksaray." Then he went looking for a job in a factory - he had to pass an entrance exam on something to do with diagrams - the last time anyone had asked him anything like that he had been at the age of fifteen; nevertheless everything was going fine, until they realised he was a g??men and he was told “Sorry, but you don’t suit the requirements”. He could not be familiar with the local terminology, he was informed. "Anyway, I am happy to be alive, it is like a gift", he said and invited me to taste the mushrooms he had been cooking in the meantime, but I had to be on my way.
_aban accompanied me to the road, worried that the dolmu_-microbus might be too expensive for me, hugged me and said that he would call me as soon as he had a phone to call from. It was already eight o'clock in the evening: it takes an hour for the microbus to struggle through the traffic jam, I calculated, another half an hour in the tram to Emin?n?, from there at least an hour by bus to Arnavutk?y, where I will look for a pub to watch the second half of the Valencia-Be_ikta_ match...
AMNESIA AND SOLIDARITY
According to Richard Rorty, Orwell's vision was of a world in which human solidarity was - deliberately, through careful planning - made impossible (Rorty, 1989, p. 209). The people I talked to recalled, almost without exception, that after the renaming none of their former friends expressed any sympathy, or if they did, it was wordless - a look in the eyes. Yet, even the most radical of them did not speak about their former neighbours, friends or colleagues with hatred: in fact, they understood their fear and exonerated them of the charge of betrayal.
It had to do with party politics, because the Turkish population was underdeveloped. In every sense. When they heard 'Ahmed, Hassan, Mehmet' - nobody paid attention to them, but as soon as they had a Bulgarian name, nobody noticed that they were Turks. This was party politics, so that we wouldn't feel that we were slighted.(Kevser, Ankara, October 1996)The immigrants felt instinctively what Rorty took several hundred pages to propound - that people were what "the mass of small, contingent facts" made them. In the critical times there were no "fellowship-inspiring descriptions" - as the American moralist would say - on the grounds of which some people could have taken a stand for them. On the other hand, they always wanted to differ, if not consciously ("in a few years we would have been absorbed", almost each of them said), at least involuntarily, like that railway worker who, after the renaming, suddenly started to believe in Allah.
If you want to get ahead here, forget what you had there.(Sabahatin, Ankara, October 1996)The fact that the immigrants unconsciously protest against the idea that they were continually deprived of their civil rights, idealising the conditions before 1984 and referring to the forceful renaming as a sudden eruption of madness, "an event outside the system", is a typical example of social amnesia. This usually happens after a fatal shock: authentic memories concern events following the shock, everything that happened before is merely "a memory about the memory", a subsequently reconstructed picture, which, by embellishing the past, grants self-justification to those who had suffered the blow, but had not been able take a stand against it. Yet at the same time, the process in which the minority identity is replaced by g??men identity could not have taken place without this amnesia: the borderline between "us" and "them" is no longer drawn according to ethnic particularities, but rather according to a supposed "level of civilisation". The distinction "we Europeans" - "they - those obscure Asians" inevitably makes them have a sense of community (in certain exceptional cases even identify) with the Bulgarians, among whom they "grew up to become Europeans”. But in order to feel like that, they must eliminate the unfortunate fact that the Bulgarians did not declare any solidarity with them in the hard times.
I asked everybody who visited their birthplace after they had emigrated how they felt when they saw the first Bulgarian policeman at the border or met that functionary in their native village who had conducted the renaming. Only those who went back one or two years after emigrating reported a minor anxiety, the rest merely shrugged at the whole business. However, I heard numerous stories about former prison officers, party secretaries and propagandists that they met and did not walk past each other, but rather joked cheerfully about how much good they had unwittingly done to the Turks by expelling them, because now they were living much better than their ex-countrymen. There was not one single case of calling somebody to account, or of manifesting any desire for retaliation, however natural it would seem to an outsider. The point is that these people now reappear invested with a completely different identity in the old place - they are no longer a minority group, the residuum of despised Asian hordes who had somehow got stuck there, but the vanguard champions of the European ideal in obscure Asia. Their life-saving instinct to differ has already found new reference points.
And this is precisely where the "moral development" Rorty dreams of gets stranded. In their case the sense of solidarity does not grow in a rising curve, but, more like the water level in contiguous vessels, has to drop in one area, so that it can rise in another. The most shocking illustration of this is their inability to draw any parallel between deprivation of the Kurdish civil rights in Turkey and their own former condition - if there is one community they all hate, without exception and in unison, it is precisely the Kurdish minority struggling for Kurd’s rights - albeit by reprehensible means today - while their contempt for the locals originates largely in the fact that they unwittingly identified the Anatolian Turks with the Kurds.
One must wonder whether there is any politician who (full conscious of his vocation) does not feel the impulse to place these potential self-distinguished voters under his protective wing? Who of the Kemalists could resist the temptation to titillate the g??mens' vanity by claiming that they are the ones destined to implement the Master’s teaching? How would these people, in constant conflict with the world outside, react if someone were to say that the ideal of the state, which they have pursued relentlessly, was a century-old and cruel ideal with confrontation rather than solidarity as its guiding principle?
_aban hoisted up the flag with the crescent high, so high I could not figure out where on earth he could possibly have found such a long pole in that heap of rubble. He has got nothing against the Bulgarians - whatever happened was due to the Communists; nor does he blame the Kurds: it was not them who robbed him, but their terrorists; there is nothing wrong with the locals: it is not their fault that their Islamists practise their split consciousness on the g??mens; and the Georgians are also all right, because there were at least as many people among them who risked their lives for him as those who wanted to kill him; so the Dernek, g??men identity and all the like - what is this? what is it for? in this hut? "I say it again: I hoisted the flag, so that nobody would forget that we are all in Turkey here."
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